Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Brief Thoughts on Cape Town Stadium

The City of Cape Town has a problem - a nearly new, barely used, international quality stadium slap bang in the centre of a precinct screaming to be developed into an urban node. The business case for the stadium hinged on attracting the local rugby union team Western Province (or The Stormers when playing in the Super Rugby tournament) as anchor tenants as the stadium is too big and inconveniently located for the two professional soccer teams based in the city. The costs of maintaining the stadium require 16 full house events (55,000 bums on seats) annually (noted by Guy Lundy, Twitter), which can only realistically be achieved if it hosts regular rugby games.

However, the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) own their current stadium, Newlands, and are loathe to forego the benefits of being owners of an old stadium for the benefits of being tenants at a new one. And understandably so - the WPRFU are in a strong negotiating position to get a good deal from the City, so a move that makes financial sense to the City is looking less and less likely.

Compounding this issue for City is a vocal, NIMBY, residents association covering the new stadium precinct, which viciously opposes any alternative uses of the stadium precinct for restaurants, clubs and other night-life venues.

This seemingly intractable situation has led to a few alarming, or at least surprising suggestions... The most extreme is to 'simply' demolish the new stadium - although I don't know if the proponents of that path have given any thoughts how to use the land better... In my humble opinion, demolishing R4.5 billion of nearly new infrastructure, no matter how misplaced the spending may have been is an indication of a severe lack of imagination.

Not lacking in imagination, but perhaps in practicality is the plan to turn the stadium into low-cost housing. I'm not sure how this would work architecturally, but the first thing to spring to mind is that low-cost housing should probably be low-cost (which the stadium certainly isn't). The other is that the modifications necessary to change a stadium into apartments are likely to cost more than demolishing and then building genuine low-cost housing in its place... So we're back to the point above.

Further to that, new urban models show the need for mixed income housing along with other space uses to create liveable urban spaces. Putting high density housing where the stadium would have to be thoroughly tested on urban design grounds before taking any steps in that direction.

I'd like to throw another thought into the mix... If the key issue is land ownership of Newlands (for WPRFU) and the operating costs of the new stadium (for the City), why not just exchange assets?

The City could swap the new stadium in Greenpoint for the old one in Newlands. WPRFU would get a brand new, world class stadium instead of an old one, without having to give up the land ownership of their stadium. The City would get an albatross off from around their necks and secure a prime piece of land for place-making in Newlands.

The fact that there is already a project underway for creating a public zone adjacent to Newlands strengthens the case further...

If I have overlooked something here, please comment...

1 comment:

  1. Well, they are also building the new Green Point athletics stadium right next to the bloody great big one...